• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on - Sarah Parham

At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to hear from Sarah Parham, Queen of Rings and owner of SVP Jewellery. She spoke about the reality of changing your career in your mid-forties, trial and error, finding your ‘thing’ and starting a brand from nothing. Her inspiring story shows how important it is to keep going and to follow life’s plan.

The beginning

I can remember writing to Vogue and Elle when I was 20 asking for a job with them, at the time I was working in advertising and the money was good but the work didn’t really inspire me. I longed to work in fashion and accessories, not in advertising working for insurance and banking clients. For some people, their passion is home interiors, art or cars. Don’t get me wrong I love art, cars (especially classic ones) and interiors too, but my passion has always been with fashion and accessories. I love how they make you feel. For me waking each morning and deciding what to wear is one of life’s great joys.

The first step is admitting you need to change.

After having no luck at Vogue and Elle (they said I would earn a lot more money staying in advertising) and in those days, there was plenty of money in that industry, creativity ruled and was rewarded and the drinks and parties flowed.

Over the years I moved jobs to try to see if I was any happier in my career but when Sunday night hit, it was always the dread of the week ahead and I started to live for the pay packet and the weekends – that for me didn’t equal happiness. During those years I was always looking for something, ‘my thing ‘that I could own and set up but I knew ‘my thing’ had to make me really happy, it had to be something I was passionate about.

Finding ‘my thing’.

I have always loved jewellery but before that journey came along I met a woman who worked in a market in Italy, her family owned the oldest glove-making house in the country. I fell in love with her story and I created a collection and had samples made up. I knew absolutely nothing about product development, margins, importing, exporting or how to sell into boutiques.

Maybe ‘my thing is gloves’

Armed with my chat, a wheelie suitcase, the gloves and a notebook off I went round to The Cross in Notting Hill. I walked in and got an order – just like that. I was like ‘wow’ this is easy. So I did it again and again. 5 stores later and still no clue what I was really doing (I am sure I had all my markups wrong, I had no SKU codes as I didn’t even know what they were and no business). I decided to call myself “glovelylady”. I didn’t keep tabs on how much I was buying and selling, for me it was just a very exciting experiment. I soon learnt that my gloves were too expensive and people didn’t want a massive outlay as they always lost them – so that was the end of the Glovelylady and her gloves.

Maybe ‘my thing’ is handbags.

Next, I found a bag maker in Italy and started bringing a few in my suitcase to sell to friends but my heart wasn’t in it and I gave up after a year.

Maybe, just maybe ‘my thing’ is jewellery.

I next met a vintage chandelier dealer and chatted to him about the pieces that were kind of left lying around. I decided to make massive necklaces from them mixed with vintage beads, I loved this. Every weekend and evening when I wasn’t working in advertising I started to create new pieces. This gave me a creative outlet that I felt was missing from my day job. Again I managed to get into a few stores by just walking in but it didn’t feel quite right – I knew this wasn’t quite ‘my thing’.

My gran then died and left some silver trinkets to me, some broken, some on funny chains, so I took them all apart, bought a chain necklace I liked and re-purposed them. I had the idea of what is dear to your heart near your heart. I felt very inspired by this idea and spent hours in antique shops buying up old charms.

I then took a brief from friends on what they love in life and made up necklaces for them, then Anna Vogel arrived and that kind of took away the idea of where I wanted to take the brand so I went back to the drawing board. In the meantime, I moved from Sussex to Dorset and set up a holiday let and then everything changed…

India- a trip to change everything

I moved from Dorset back to Sussex and I was still working in advertising. My husband landed a job in Mumbai in India and because we had two dogs and needed money I stayed in the UK and carried on working. I flew out to see him and started to meet lots of new interesting people.

We travelled to Jaipur in Rajasthan and it was there my new life started. I was invited to design a ring by a woman my husband had employed, her family were in the jewellery business and as a thank you and kindly let me design a ring.

A new career – sort of.

When I arrived back in the U.K. friends asked if they could have one. I was keen not to bother the family in India too much so I asked my friends to send me their ring size, none of them knew it, they didn’t have time to walk into a jeweller to find out. Many said well, my hands change size with the heat and the cold, a pregnant friend said her fingers swelled regularly, weight fluctuation, arthritis, big knuckles with small fingers were all discussed – so that was it, instead of annoying the family and India was too far away to send things back I designed a ring to fit every finger. The band took ages, around 6 or 7 attempts to get right as I had no idea what I was doing. The family in India were so kind and patient, eventually, I had it and that is where SVP started and my life changed.

How to get money for nothing.

That was my first google search, not joking! I now had an idea but no money to make it happen and I also didn’t know how to set up a business. My search ended up being really fruitful. At the time the Government was running a scheme that assigned a business mentor to an entrepreneur. It was called the Accelerator scheme.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I applied. Two days later an email popped up saying I was to be interviewed. I can remember thinking, who is going to give me money? I only had a rough plan of the idea, how I wanted the business to be and a sort of idea on how to get there – no detail at all, no figures, no margins, no-cost plan, no range plan and not much of anything really.

Passion can get you places.

I did, however, have energy, passion and I believed in my idea – rings that could fit everyone. I knew I didn’t want to create the rings myself, I knew I wanted a supply chain and I knew I needed to sell in volume if I was to pay myself, give other people opportunities and I also knew I wanted to grow a kind generous brand.

I sat down and thought about what I needed help with, how I wanted to build the company and most importantly what was the idea in 6 words so I could articulate it to people quickly.

The interview.

Nervous, scared and a little apprehensive – I was all of those things. I had two people visit me at home and as soon as I started to talk, my idea started to come to life. They could see how determined I was, and honest – I freely admitted I had everything to learn and this is why I needed their help to get there. It’s a shame to let a good idea go to waste, right?

A day of strategy.

I got a yes – I was now onto the next stage of getting some funding for a business mentor. The day was great, I have run and been at this kind of day before when I worked in advertising so I felt comfortable, but, I found it so much harder with SVP than when I did for other clients in my old career. When it’s your business, it’s very difficult to get a helicopter view of your company and vision.

We did everything- from stress testing the idea of adjustable rings, to SWOT analysis and a strategy for the next stage, as well as rough numbers so I could see what I needed to do to get to build the business. It was great being in a room with other people all building their ‘thing’ from all different backgrounds. Many who were starting from scratch or diversifying in their 40’s – it was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

Hello, new start.

A week later I received a formal letter through the post saying I had been accepted. I was able to choose a business mentor, we were given around 5 to choose from. I chose Si Conroy who runs Scarlett Monday.

This was the first part of a major change in my business and my life. Si and I worked together for over a year, when my Accelerator Scheme came to an end I applied successfully for match funding. I learnt everything for SKU codes and how they are constructed to margins, cashflows, strategy, 100-day plans, you name it, I sped learnt everything so I could start to understand how the business could work.

The work with Si was invaluable and took me to the next stage of my business.

Scarlett Monday’s Mission.

Scarlet’s mission is to make people in business more successful leaders by making management consultancy, coaching and mentoring understandable/safe/open and accessible to them. There is too much fear of what it is, how much it costs and what you get for it. Scarlet exists because of a belief that most leaders can be brilliant – they just don’t know-how. We use a proven framework and a careful blend of traditional and non-traditional methodologies to deliver results as quickly as possible.

Keep it simple.

I always think every idea should be straightforward and simple. It helps keep you on track. When setting up a business it is easy to get overwhelmed and sidetracked with lots of other ideas and feeling like you are drowning which makes you feel paralysed and then nothing gets done or achieved. Have an end goal – do you want to sell our company? Is our company more of a hobby? Do you want to be a D to C brand (direct to consumer) or do you want to only wholesale or a mix of both? When your end plan is sorted, you need a year plan so you have something easier to work towards. I have a year turnover goal and each month I want to exceed what the business earnt the month before. I also want to ensure we have the best service in the industry, not just with customers but with our suppliers too. I create a plan for how from a service and sales point of view.

Know your brand in six words.

In order to keep everything simple, you need to distil your business idea down into 5 or 6 words, this should be your elevator lift or your positing or strapline, those words sum up our point of difference in the marketplace – these 5 or 6 words can take weeks to crack. The words will keep you on track and ensure you keep things simple. The six words for SVP Jewellery are:

“Adjustable rings that fit every finger.”

It says exactly what we do and what the SVP Jewellery point of difference is. It keeps us on track and ensures we keep things simple.

Don’t believe everything everyone tells you.

When I first started out I gathered tons of information from as many places as I could, I read books to help build my knowledge and I started to network. I had so much advice I felt overwhelmed – I stopped, went back to my 6 words and looked at my overall vision and then decided what I was going to do and achieve in that next week. Slowly the business was starting to form.

Never worry about what other people are doing or have done. I heard a lot of well, this is how it works in this industry, you won’t get anywhere doing it like that, you don’t know anything, why would you want to change what works? I had everything thrown at me, but I thought just because an industry has always worked in one way it doesn’t have to be my way. I wanted to disrupt the industry and keep inventing, changing and creating new exciting ways of achieving and delivering my adjustable rings.

Check out SVP here to learn more about the Queen of Rings herself, check out her Instagram. If you enjoyed Sarah’s story you will love her IGTV’s talking about how she changed her career in her forties part 1 and 2. Make sure you take a look at our other Spotlight blogs here and look out for part 2 of Sarah’s story, coming soon!

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